Understandably, discussing ‘the media’ on television or radio can be quite difficult – in practice, the producers and presenters will find themselves discussing their own owners and colleagues on a regular basis. (Editors and reporters on media sections of print publications face similar difficulties, of course). The format can be particularly useful (discussing TV techniques or editorial choices by showing clips and discussing them is an obvious example), but can also be limiting.
I think that there are two tests that a broadcast programme on media affairs must meet:
(a) does it address the activities of its own channel (or corporate/organisational) group in a frank and fair way, and
(b) does it present enough information through extracts (clips from the programmes or services being discussed, etc) to inform the audience, without being a fig-leaf for shock value.
The programmes I particular admire are, unsurprisingly, on the radio: I regularly listen to the new Media Show on BBC Radio 4, NPR’s On The Media and the Guardian’s Media Podcast, each platform perhaps representing a different era of radio history. A good example of ‘new media criticism’ comes from two services of the CBC that I have mentioned in these pages before: Search Engine and Spark – using podcasting and blogging in a very effective fashion (although occasionally the enthusiasm for new services and playing down of ‘old media’ is a bit much for my sceptical ears). Their respective presenters – Jesse Brown and Nora Young – are pioneers in an emerging form of blended, wide-ranging media analysis, and I find the programmes both influential and provocative.
I was very disappointed to see ITV’s ‘Tonight: Is TV Too Rude?‘, broadcast in January but only watched by me a few days ago. Based on my entirely arbitrary rules, it failed. The hook of the programme was presenting seven ‘clips’ to a focus group, and allowing them to discuss. However, of the seven, four were from the BBC, two from Channel 4 and one from ITV itself. The clips were heavily censored for broadcast (the show went out at 8.30pm), including lengthy cuts and bleeping. It was not sensible to broadcast the show in this slot – it made the criticism meaningless and they may as well have not bothered with the clips at all. Anyway, see for yourself – UK users should be able to watch it via ITV Player, for a limited period.
I have higher hopes for a new BBC2 series that starts this week, a three-part special edition of the Money Programme, Media Revolutions, presented by Janet Street-Porter. All things going well, I’ll blog about it once it gets going. Airing on Thursdays and available online after broadcast. The Channel 4 TV Show is due back on air next month, too.